If the word "excited" were an animal, it would be a spider monkey jumping around. If it were a color, it would be neon yellow, eighth-graders at Gahanna Middle School South decided last week.

If the word "excited" were an animal, it would be a spider monkey jumping around. If it were a color, it would be neon yellow, eighth-graders at Gahanna Middle School South decided last week.

The students went on to use the word in a short poem, though they weren't aware they were writing poetry at the time.

Poets Sarah Holbrook and Michael Salinger visited the school last week to help the eighth-graders learn how to write better.

"Our main goal is to improve their communication skills, both written and oral," Salinger said.

"We're learning different techniques of how to write," said eighth-grader Becca Gavin. Gavin sat in on one of the two-hour workshops prepping students for their unit of poetry. Lisa Schartiger, the school's library and media specialist, said April is National Poetry Month and the students are working to get ready for the annual Poetry Jam, during which they read their work or someone else's in public.

Eighth-grader Aerial Dowdy seemed ready for the poetry jam last week, reciting one of her poems written about former slave Harriet Tubman. The poem described how Tubman felt inside and what she showed on the outside.

"I'm feeling really confident and like to write poems," Dowdy said.

The poets have visited the school the last three years, working each year with different groups. Schartiger said the school's curriculum department funded this year's project, which brought in eighth-graders from Joan Miller's classes for two-hour workshops with the poets.

Both are professional poets, Salinger having been published for the first time when he was in fourth grade. He encouraged students to "show, don't tell" and to think about how to use words to get their meaning across.

"Poetry is a tool that can be used to practical ends," he said, stressing how writing poetry that is concise and precise can help them become better communicators.

"Learning to communicate with these skills is going to help you in anything you do," he said.

Holbrook also is a professional poet, having started in college as a journalism major. She said she still writes like a journalist, gathering facts to use in her poem, for example.

They encouraged the students to practice writing poems as they would practice shooting basketball to improve their shot.

"You have to practice to get better," Salinger said.

lwince@thisweeknews.com